Steve Hmiel Talks About New Role

Hmiel discusses role with DEI Steve Hmiel, recently announced as team consultant at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., after being released from by Jack Roush earlier in the year, spoke in detail recently about what his role with his new team will be....

Hmiel discusses role with DEI

Steve Hmiel, recently announced as team consultant at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., after being released from by Jack Roush earlier in the year, spoke in detail recently about what his role with his new team will be.

"The plan is to help Philippe Lopez with the 1 car (Steve Park) through the end of the year, to help with the development of the '99 Monte Carlo, go to all the tests, and then next year we've got the big job of getting Dale Jr. going Winston Cup racing, although it's only for five races," said Hmiel. "We intend to test him an awful lot, so I'll be testing with Steve Park and with Junior.

"In the year 2000, I'll just kind of watch over both teams - not in a general manager role Ty Norris has that job and he does it well. I'm more like the technical guy watching both race cars, who's on stickers and who's not. Did you know these guys were running a rear swaybar? If somebody gets off on a tangent, it'll be my job to say 'hey, you need to come back over here and try these shocks'.

"That's probably a better idea.' I'm just going to stand back and watch and hopefully use the experience I have to bring along these guys. They've got a great crew chief and crew. Philippe and his guys and Tony Eury and his guys do a heck of a job. They don't need somebody staring at their hardware everyday, but they need somebody to kind of look at the theme of it and see where it's going and help them with the testing and help them with the wind tunnel."

Hmiel says that he should be able to help in his own special ways, which in turn will help the other members of the team perform better at their jobs.

"If I'm off testing and the other guys are back at the shop getting ready to go to the next race, they'll be better prepared to go to the race track," said Hmiel. "It's a matter of using the guy with a certain amount of experience who has been to the wind tunnel a lot, who has been to a bunch of the tests and can stand back and actually see the forest for the trees and pick out what looks a little wrong or brag on what looks right and make sure both teams are headed in the right direction.

"I'm sure Philippe and I will work on strategy for the rest of the year. I'm sure he'll continue to talk to Steve. Next year when we start the five races with Junior and the next year when we run all of the races, I'll probably just go back and forth between them and try to understand strategy and see who can help who and who's running better on stickers and who's running better on scuffs and where we are on our fuel mileage."

Hmiel thinks his role with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Tony Eury will be similar to another situation in the NASCAR Winston Cup garage area.

"I think Tony and the guys are interested in coming to Winston Cup racing," Hmiel said. "On the other hand, they've got Busch races to do next year. I'll go to the test with Tony testing with Junior, but when they race the Winston Cup car, it'll be on a weekend I think that's not in partnership with a Busch race. I'll be able to focus entirely on that. It's real similar to what Buddy Parrott does with Jimmy Fennig and Frankie Stoddard.

"We're going to work hard on that '99 Monte Carlo. I'm real excited about the '99 Monte Carlo. We're going to be working together with a number of other Chevrolet teams and develop that thing so we come out of the box as strong as possible. We want to get back to a level playing field, and I'm hoping our team, Dale Earnhardt, Inc., will strengthen the hold on the number of strong teams Chevrolet has.

"Ford has a number of great race teams, and Chevrolet also has a number of great race teams. If we can be one more, it would be one more Chevrolet those Fords have to beat. A number of good Chevrolet teams are just this close to doing it. I hope we can influence that a little bit."

Hmiel, who has experience with the Ford Taurus with Roush, likes Chevrolet's strategy in developing a car that can compete consistently with the Taurus.

"I think it's going to be a heck of a race car, and I think the Taurus is a heck of a race car," said Hmiel. "Chevrolet is really doing the right thing. They're taking their time. I thought we had to have 'em ready for Daytona. Now I hear it's later in the season, which I think is wise. Everybody will be able to go to Daytona with proven stuff and run up front. I think that's the right thing to do. Here in the next six or eight months we can develop that car into a real nice race car. We can get Dale Jr. some Winston Cup testing, we can go to the wind tunnel, we can take some of the day-to-day load off Philippe and his guys by me being able to go testing with Steve. Hopefully, it'll be an improvement for the whole company."

Speaking of improvement, Hmiel says he has seen Dale Earnhardt Jr. develop over the last couple of years.

"I've been watching Dale Jr.," said Hmiel. "I was his biggest fan two years ago. In fact Don Hawk said, 'you told us that kid was good two years ago.' I knew he would be a whale of a race car driver. Winston Cup racing has proven lately to be a huge step from Busch. Matt Kenseth did a whale of a job last week, and that might be some type of aberration. You'd have to do that week in and week out to prove to me that you could come right from Busch to Winston Cup. If anyone could do it, probably the Matt Kenseths and Dale Earnhardt Jrs. can. We're going to be realistic about it. Dale and Dale both talk a lot and they understand what's expected. We'll do a workmanlike job and eventually get up toward the front.

"Steve Park is a great talent, too. Two years ago, I was looking around to see if we could talk to him about driving one of Jack's cars and he had already signed with Dale. He's a great talent. He got hurt earlier in the year and that's unfortunate. He came back out of the box at Indy and ran great. He ran great at Michigan. He ran great at Watkins Glen. He's had a couple of tough races the past couple of weeks, but I thought he did an outstanding job at Dover. He's driven a Winston Cup car one time here and he did a great job with it. We have to temper our enthusiasm and understand he doesn't have a lot of experience, but he's going to be a superstar."

Getting let go by Roush was a tough blow for Hmiel, but apparently his batteries have been recharged. He's looking far ahead into his NASCAR Winston Cup career.

"I want to do this until I'm about 60," he said. "I want to do it as long as Dale Inman did and he swears I can't, but I'm going to try. When you get with a laid back group, a confident group with the chemistry level this company has, I think you can go along with them for a long time. This is what I know to do. I didn't enjoy myself sitting at home on the couch the last three weeks. I want to be involved with big-time auto racing and the only way to do it is to just go do it as hard as you can."

Hmiel says he understood immediately that Dale Earnhardt Inc. is big-time when he first walked into the shop.

"Dale's new shop is such a beautiful shop, it's almost disconcerting when you walk in," said Hmiel. "You wonder if it's just a show place or are you going to work there. I spent the entire day there yesterday and they do a lot of work there. They're all enthusiastic. They worry about having light cars and fast cars and making a lot of downforce. They take care of each other. Their spirits are high. It's just terrific. It looks like a showplace and it is, but it's also a heck of a work place.

"Earnhardt (Sr.) is a cool guy to work with. I was nervous going to him to talk and in the first five minutes I knew I could talk to him. You could have a fist fight with him and wouldn't have any hard feelings about it. You tell him what you think, and he tells you what he thinks and then you go on about your business. There's no mystery to it. You know where you stand and I think that's important."

According to Hmiel, two things will determine the success of the team.

"We've got good race drivers and a great owner and sponsors and the other is that these 41 and 42 and 43-year-old drivers won't be as good in five years as they are now. We're going to fall into a slot that's just perfect. I couldn't imagine the timing being any better for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

"Mark Martin is a great race driver and I'm sure he'll do it forever. Jeff Gordon is much younger than Mark, but the sport has changed a lot in the last 10 years and I'm sure it'll continue to change over the next 10 years. People are going to get tired and the schedule is going to get longer."

As that happens, Hmiel says that manpower will be just as important as horsepower in running a successful team.

"How we handle and how we manage the people is going to be more important than how we manage the hardware," he said. "We're going to try to be progressive along those lines. It may end up that a group of people goes on the weekend and have a couple of days off during the week. We haven't even talked about it.

"I think the trouble Winston Cup racing is going to run into is the labor pool is going to not shrink, but the teams are getting bigger and there aren't as many people to go around. Quality people are hard to find. You look and see the Busch people who are laying on the ground working on the race cars. You find the truck driver that gets it there the quickest. You go find race car drivers like Steve Park and Dale Jr. who do a great job in anything you put them in.

"Even then, you've got the chemistry issue. That's the hardest part. Experience together means a lot. We'll get that as much as we race. We'll be surprised when Atlanta is over. We're nervous thinking about how it's going to go at Martinsville in September. Atlanta in November, we'll be like we've been together a hundred years. It'll happen quickly and it'll shake out fast. I think we'll be pretty effective."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Steve Park , Jack Roush , Mark Martin